Damned if you do, damned if you don't
December 10, 2008
Results show how disparate hiring criteria further discriminates against ambitious, competent women. When judging the ambitious women's hirability, a perceived lack of social skills formed the basis of the hiring decision, and the womens' high competence was relatively neglected. For ambitious men, however, perceived competence and interpersonal skills were weighed equally in the hiring decision. Women were doubly disadvantaged because even when female applicants adhered to stereotypic expectations by presenting themselves as modest, they were unlikely to be hired because evaluators emphasized their relatively low competence and discounted their (high) social skills.
The double standard is alive and well: "He's ambitious; she's a bitch." Men are still not expected to have social skills; women are still expected to fill that role in society. Ambition and competence conflict with social skills (where did that one come from?) Women should be modest, not toot their own horns, not have goals and dreams and desires that might conflict with men's. Women who present themselves as confident and ambitious are still seen as dangerous aggressors who threaten the social order and the
position of men in a hierarchy that still supports the paradigm that male-valued and male-defined behavior is the "correct" behavior, and deviation from it makes the deviator "alien," and thus outcast.
The worst part of the results of this study is that hit shows how deeply women have internalized the negative social messages about female ambition. So much so that we're often our own worst enemies. We've bought into the myth that competent, ambitious women are all bitches, and would be a nightmare to work for. On the other hand, we expect ambitious men to be assholes and horrible to work for, but that's okay, because they're men.
It seems to me what's really needed is a new paradigm for professional behavior for both men and women. Ambition and competence are good; backstabbing, sexually harassing or otherwise screwing over your subordinates, and throwing temper tantrums are bad. This is one of the things that first excited me about feminism: I thought that with more women in the work force it might somehow shift the way business is conducted, to make it less cut-throat, less dog-eat-dog, less piratical, and more about cooperation and mutual benefit. I hoped and keep hoping it would happen in scientific workplaces as well. It hasn't happened yet, thought it's getting better, and it won't until we change the attitudes about what women's social roles look like, and until we stop judging them by outdated standards. I don't see this happening until it's not extraordinary to have women in any role outside the home, from president to chief of the CIA to director of a national laboratory.
In other words, keep banging the hell out of the glass ceiling, my sistahs. Hillary's put 18 million cracks in it. Keep pushing. And quit hobbling each other, while you're at it.
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